Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: The Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes


Elizabeth of York, the only living descendant of Edward IV, has the most valuable possession in all of England -- a legitimate claim to the crown.

Two princes battle to win Britain's most rightful heiress for a bride and her kingdom for his own. On one side is her uncle Richard, the last Plantagenet King, whom she fears is the murderer of her two brothers, the would-be kings. On the other side is Henry Tudor, the exiled knight. Can he save her from a horrifying marriage to a cut-throat soldier?

Thrust into the intrigue and drama of the War of the Roses, Elizabeth has a country within her grasp - if she can find the strength to unite a kingdom torn apart by a thirst for power.
The times between King Edward III of England and Henry VII, the first Tudor King, were full of intrigue, bloody battles and civil war. The Lancastrians and the Yorkists, descendants of the prolific Edward III both had a legitimate claim to the crown and they were tearing the country apart by warring against each other. This has always been one of my favorite times in English history to study and just enjoy. When I realized the Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes was available, I had to read it.

In the The Tudor Rose, Margaret Campbell Barnes begins by introducing a young Elizabeth of York in 1483, right as the French King Louis XI breaks the betrothal contracts between his son, Charles The Dauphin and Elizabeth. The book covers Elizabeth's life up until the birth of her last child. Throughout The Tudor Rose, Campbell Barnes weaves history and fiction seamlessly. There were a couple of instances where creative license was taken, but for the most part she uses known history accurately and beautifully. I love the way she develops and explores the characters in this book. She specifically explores the duality in their personalities and lets the reader be the judge.

When we first meet young Elizabeth, the French King's rejection feels more like a personal affront than a matter of state. Elizabeth quickly realizes that as the daughter of a King, she is not just a woman -- she is more a chess piece in the game of political alliances. This single act of rejection serves to make her aware of the ambitious and cruel acts of men -- a theme explored by Campbell Barnes throughout the book. A few months later, her father is dead and this lesson will serve Bess well.

Fearful of Richard of Gloucester, the King's younger brother and his closest relative by blood, Bess' mother, the calculating Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, calls on her powerful Woodville relatives and attempts to take control of the new King, young Edward. When Richard thwarts her, she quickly moves the rest of her children into sanctuary. During their time in sanctuary, a seventeen-year old Bess is seen as the one who consoles her mother and takes responsibility for her siblings. Although young, Bess is quite sharp and recognizes her mother erred against Richard, however she soon loses faith in Richard's promise to be the young King's protector. Not long after, when he imprisons her two brothers Edward and Richard, and ceases the crown for himself all hope seems to disappear, as Richard of Gloucester becomes King Richard III.

At this point, Campbell Barnes tells us the account of the two princes in the Tower. Did Richard have the princes murdered? Bess agonizes as certainty and doubt plague her throughout her life. In the midst of loss and grief Bess' mother approaches her with the idea of a betrothal to the Lancastrian, Henry of Richmond. Horrified at first Bess refuses, but with confirmation of her brothers' murder and the realization that she is now the legitimate heir to Edward IV, she hastily agrees to marry Henry.

After a failed plot by Henry's supporters to cease the crown, Elizabeth is finally set free from sanctuary and returns to court with a public promise from Richard that she and her sisters will not be harmed. Soon after, Richard's son dies and Queen Anne of Neville goes into decline. During this time, we not only see Richard's duality, but Elizabeth's true understanding of it. After the Queen's death, Richard shocks Elizabeth by proposing a marriage between them in an attempt to secure the crown. This incestuous proposal gives Bess the impetus to seek help from powerful Lord Stanley and the second plot against Richard III is set into motion and succeeds.

In The Tudor Rose, Richard III's character just took over the pages. The way Campbell Barnes weaved history with fiction when it comes to this particular character was fascinating. Elizabeth's reactions to him were portrayed as those of a confused and troubled young woman who admired his accomplishments and talents while recognizing his faults. The battle where Richard loses his life to the Lancastrians is one of the most touching and fascinating narrations in this book. I couldn't stop reading and was just as arrested, horrified and admiring of him, as was Elizabeth herself.

Although Elizabeth looked forward to giving herself to her husband and hoped for a good marriage, she was to be disappointed. King Henry VII is portrayed as a cautious man whose cruelty is cold and who lacked passion. Bess describes Henry as a man who could "neither love nor hate." For a warm, giving woman like Bess who came from the passionate Plantagenets, this was a tough road. Campbell Barnes also explores the duality in Henry's character through Bess' doubts about his actions. Impostors, one of which claimed to be Bess' adored brother, Richard of York, plagued Henry's reign. He was a man who cared much for hoarding money and things and who left the crown well stocked for his successor, Bess' favorite son, King Henry VIII.

Elizabeth of York, first born to King Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville took the motto a "Humble and Reverent Queen." She was a giving, warm woman who gave much of herself to her family and the people around her, yet kept little for herself. She's portrayed as someone who was loved dearly by those around her, but who craved the passion denied her by her husband, King Henry VII. She suffered dearly throughout her life and never stopped grieving for her young murdered brothers, especially for the youngest Richard, Duke of York. However, a Plantagenet through and through, strong and focused she forged ahead and gave birth to the Tudor dynasty. The only English Queen to have been the wife, daughter, sister, niece, and mother to English Kings, she gave herself to her family and her people.

First released in 1953, The Tudor Rose is a classic. If you love historical fiction like I do, this is a book I know you'll enjoy.

Review based on ARC copy from Sourcebooks.

Books by Margaret Campbell Barnes you might enjoy.
The Tudor Rose
Brief Gaudy Hour
My Lady of Cleves
King's Fool

Originally posted at Musings of a Bibliophile September 28, 2009

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